City Branding (Place Branding) | Meaning, Stages & Examples

What do you mean by City  Branding?

City Branding, Place Branding or Urban Branding is the concept of presenting an urban area as a brand or City Brand. Cities are planned and developed in a manner which helps them present themselves in a certain manner. City Marketing is the process of branding a city or place, it is also called as geo-branding, urban branding or place branding. Cities around the world are branding themselves just like other commodities as they compete to be the best. Urban development is aligned in such a manner that it helps in achieving the desired results, is in line with the branding efforts and city branding practice.

“A strong city marketing helps a place compete in the global marketplace,” says Chris Fair (President, Resonance, Marketing Firm), “A business or a potential resident or a visitor can go anywhere they want today, so articulating differentiating and unique characteristics is important to attracting investment, people and capital to your place”.

Cities these days compete with each other to have sustainable development and provide its citizens a decent quality of life: concerning good economic opportunities and environment. This way they brand themselves to attract investments and people to enjoy these services. Most of the well known cities and places which have strong emphasis on branding are know to have robust policy documents for brand management and branding campaign.

City Branding, hidden in plain sight?

Walk down the streets of the neighbourhood and you’ll find big posters showcasing not your favourite clothes, shoes or electronics brands but also cities. Places are marketing them live never before. This is most common with cities and countries which are well known for tourism. Consider example of Australia, Maldives, Malaysia, India, all these countries have come up with different taglines which try to create images in readers’ mind. When the brand strategy is aimed at promoting a nation as a brand, its called nation branding.

The branding strategy and placemaking not only involves branding or marketing a country or nation as a whole but also their individual cities or states. Within the ‘Incredible India’, we have Bangalore as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’, Jaipur- ‘The Pink city’, Gurgaon-‘The millennium city’ and many more. The main idea behind city branding is that we give an image of the city to people so that it turns from a location to a destination. Similarly, Malaysia’s tourism board calls Malaysia – Truly Asia; Australia – There’s nothing like Australia; Las Vegas gives an image of Casino’s all over!

Since the earliest human settlements were created, clean water, fresh air, and abundant food supplies were the hallmark of liveable sustainable cities, and today we demand nothing less. Urban areas grow and prosper when the benefits of proximity between people and businesses far outweigh the negative cost of mitigating these impacts. We as decision makers and city leaders, must make clear decisions today that will have a huge impact on citizens of these cities in the future. By creating habitable, thriving cities and preserving our natural resources today, we will command the respect of future generations. City branding strategy should be made based on the study of various place marketing campaigns, city branding practices and diverse theoretical backgrounds as mentioned in urban studies to create a strong brand identity.

Related: Advantages and Benefits of Living in Cities

Great civilizations are measured by the greatness of their cities, Petra, Chiapas, Cairo and Rome are but a few magnificent examples of the human need, not only to coexist and prosper, but to understand and assimilate the environment into their urban plans. These great cities were homes to great civilizations albeit the Nabateans, Inca, Pharos and Romans, one thing is for certain none of the ancient civilizations could have earned their place in history if their urban settlements did not integrate environmental concerns into their city plans. Whatever their reasons were for urban settlement, it was the human ingenuity throughout the millennia that succeeded to bring people into close habitation without suffering the negative impacts associated with polluted air, water contamination and disease. The past great civilizations utilized state of the art means, available at the time, to create their sustainable cities; by comparison, employing the available technology today, we should be able to leap-frog ahead and achieve incredible results.

Role of Urban Planners & Government in Branding Process

Urban Planners try to bring together municipalities of the region and the private sector, as well as non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations, to discuss solutions to environmental challenges, which promote both economic growth and social responsibility. Urban Planners thus has a large role to play in city branding. Urban Planners, Local Government & State Government work on long term goals and plans for a particular area. Policy documents prepared by them governs how an area will look like in future. This is of particular importance when a new town or city is being developed with a specific purpose in mind. Such examples include creating a visual identity, setting up Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Industrial Townships, Port Cities, Satellite Cities, IT Hubs or Silicon Valleys. Giving a specific and specialised character & brand to an area requires long term planning. For existing cities there can be minor interventions which enhances the existing identity and brand perception of a particular city. Old and large cities like Colorado, New York, Amsterdam, Bandung, London, Mumbai etc already have their distinct identity, in such cases government intervention and work is to prepare branding strategy based on the existing advantage of the city.

Branding for small cities and towns

Successful place branding is not only limited to the big cities and developing nations, but also beneficial for small cities. The need and requirements of smaller regions differs from that of large cities. The promise and the target audience for small areas may also be different however the aim remains similar to that of large cities. Additional revenue and taxes for an area will help the smaller areas plan for urban regeneration, help local businesses, improve public spaces help with the bigger objective of nation branding. The marketing campaigns might be limited for small areas since the target audience can be people in the surrounding instead of focusing internationally. Example of successful place branding for such areas include increasing tourism, creating an image of the city or a competitive identity in nearby areas.

Social media in such cases is a cost effective strategy for brand development. Promotional strategies should always be made by involving all the key stakeholders as done in any public decision as leads to community participation and better results. Creating an identity built around 2-3 key areas such as tourism, promoting local business, heritage based tourism, sightseeing or health tourism etc is easier. Once these focus areas are strengthened, the branding campaigns can try to target other areas.

How “Brand Perception” influences decision making – Individual & Corporate?

Brand identity is closely linked to economic development of a city in number of cases. People choose to live in a city or migrate to a particular city based on the impression or “brand” which they have formed. For example a person in search of an IT job will consider moving to or residing in silicon valley, whereas someone looking for manufacturing will prefer to live in an industrial hub. Major cities not only influence individual’s decision directly but also of corporate entities through their branding effort. Large firms and MNCs are always looking out for talent pool, skilled workers, innovation, cost optimising and reduction in expenses. In a search for all these, they consider various available options before locating their offices, headquarters and setting up infrastructure. Marketing strategy differs from place to place depending on the desired goals and objectives. Urban studies now include information, conceptualisation and examples of places which effectively branded themselves and ran exceptional marketing campaign.

Related Article: City Branding Example – Singapore City, City of Santa Clara Branding Initiative | City of Santa Clara (

Incredible IndiaAustralia - There's Nothing Like Australia

Why cities brand themselves? Need & Importance

As explained above, urban branding has various advantages and benefits associated with them in terms of economic growth and overall perceived value of a place. Carefully made branding campaigns can give a new life to an decaying or declining city. The primary reason for branding or rebranding include improving the brand image, the economic benefits, talent attraction, reputation all of which can be direct or indirect. Within a few years of branding, the city adds value to itself with the efficiency and efficacy of maintaining the brand name, this results in royalties in terms of good economic growth of the city, increased per capita income and increase in funds for municipalities for future development. City branding should not be perceived merely as branding or marketing; it is the art of creating an image of a city in peoples mind so that they are attracted towards it. The unique character of the city is what makes it different from the rest of the world. These days the movement of people is very fluid, and hence it is important to articulate what the city has best in it and how it is different from its other competitors, therefore making it more eye-catching for other cities.  Earlier marketing techniques were used to promote cities worldwide. Place branding is a new trend, only half a decade old, where the image of the city was considered as a pre-requisite for future investments, export of products and enhancing tourism. Place branding should not be confused with marketing, as it is more inclusive and displays cities ideals, accomplishments and aspirations apart from just concentrating on the markets to be served.

Involvement of stakeholders helps in formulation of well thought branding initiatives which strengthen communities’ sense of place; it creates a line between the communities, business, and visitors. Most of the time the city focuses on building capacities and enhancing the growth of various sectors and city branding helps in enhancing the pace. Traditionally the character of the city was mainly defined by its geography and the industry supported by it, that is primarily the physical traits. However, today culture, people, innovation, ideas generated and experiences given by that place contribute towards its image.

Kotler et al., (1999) suggested four critical reasons explaining the need for city branding. These adapted reasons are:

  1. Cities have to compete in the modern day world and have to adjust to it because of the continually changing environment
  2. Cities grow due to urbanization. A powerful brand name would help to brush through economic slowdowns and would be a shield to negative publicity.
  3. Countries are more competitive these days for affluent residents and tourists. To sustain competitive advantage, countries are now more attentive to become a more attractive destination for tourists.
  4. Self-governance and local funding is the final reason. Cities these days understand the power of creating international events to place them on a world map. It is also through these efforts that different types of funding (advertisements, live telecasts’ fee, tickets revenue, food and beverage, hotels, etc.) can be generated.

City Branding

City branding is a long-term process and cannot be achieved in a few years; effective city branding requires real changes before the campaign, and public relations can come with effect. Short-term advertising and vague goals portraying a pretty picture of the city won’t help in the long run. Systematic approach targeting each stakeholder is what works. The real-time experiences of investors should inspire this approach. The same city can hold different interests for various people, so these need to be addressed and adopted rather than incorporating a singular approach.

City branding is done in 5 stages:

  1. City audit to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the city
  2. Construction of identity through discussions
  3. Understanding competition and position finding
  4. Creation of vision for city and listing of objectives
  5. Developing a strategy to promote the city or the process of “branding.”

Once these stages are completed the city/country gets a distinct identity as reflected in the image above! The brand name helps in getting investment for the city or country which can be for a specific sector like tourism, industry, manufacturing, research, innovation, etc.

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Stages of City Branding – A Continuous and Long Process

The concept of place branding is not known to many and thus often ignored. Stakeholders at different levels have in depth discussions and deliberation for deciding the “brand” which they wish to impart to the city. This is a long process and thus various stages of city branding exists. These stages provides a systematic sequence which is generally followed for the purpose of city branding or place branding. Corporate branding, developing slogan, destination branding should be thought of carefully.

City Branding Examples

The number of stages might differ from place to place and country to country as the vision and complexity involved is different. Its obvious that the strategy adopted by a city with 1 million residents will differ from the cities with 10 million population even when they both are competing for tourism. This is so because the built infrastructure and the natural heritage is different for all places and they have their own strengths and weaknesses. Branding initiative must take into account the public diplomacy and latest thinking.

Various stages of City Branding

Making a city as a “brand” is a long process and the final result is a outcome of years of planning and work. The desired outcome is visible only if everything goes as per plan. Planning for such a long term goal requires a continuous monitoring and evaluation at every step. The strategy adopted must allow modification as per the changing need. The various stages of city branding are:

First stage: This starts with the process of city audit, where the strengths and weaknesses of the city are audited. Unique characters of the city are identified which can be used in future as growth potentials. Major influencers of the city are studied and various stakeholders associated are recognised. An impression is generated from an outsider’s position; these include the messages sent out by the industries, government through their policies, and tourism in the market place. This helps in understanding whether they are on the same line or not, if not then the reasons behind it are identified.

Process of City Branding

Second stage: At this stage the identity of place is constructed through discussion between the stakeholders and community participation is taken into account. Generally while accounting for a place, its people are overlooked but they are the main components of the city and very crucial for branding it. Audiences at different levels are engaged example the people at civic level, tourism level, marketing level and the community level. After this common threads between them are identified. Creating a coherent message and position between the different stakeholders is important for city branding to bring them on same alignment so as to create a single image. This is a part of internal branding.

Third stage: It deals with comparing the position and services offered by the city with its competition and what should be done to make it at par or better than them. The image of the city as perceived by the others and the stakeholders should match only then everybody would be on common ground and steps for betterment could be taken.

Fourth stage: At this stage a vision for the city is created. The vision keeps in mind the ambition of the city as a whole and where do its people want to see it in next few years. This vision should be followed by various objectives to build upon the brand of the city.

Fifth stage: This is also considered as last stage where a strategy is developed to promote the city on worldwide basis. This includes promotion on different media and improving relations with different cities. Various interventions are made at policy level so as to provide an infrastructure and appropriate base for city to grow.

The measure is done in value terms by estimating the increase in Foreign Direct Investments, exports and percentage increase in contribution of tourism sector to the economy of that city. The increase in numeric value suggests the intensity of success and development on those lines.

The other ways of evaluating it are surveying people around the world about the image that city creates and asking about their first hand experiences in the city. This helps in analysing the fact whether the perception of people matches with the kind of environment that was developed and stated in the goals and vision of the city.

Media coverage in the national and international domain also helps in understanding whether the city is being accepted around the world or not. If the reviews are positive, or if the interventions in the city are being adopted in other cities of the world then the brand name is a success. If the reviews are negative then a change in direction of approach is required.


Brand name would also result in development of local industries and as a result they would use the city name to market their goods, this is also one of the indicators.

Read about: City BrandingWhat makes a city Great!Loss of walkable Cities, How to Measure the Success of Place Branding Initiatives | Destinations International